One goal was all that William Carey needed on Sunday.
The Lady Crusaders scored a goal in the 16th minute and their stout defense never relented as the team from Hattiesburg grabbed their first NAIA Women’s Soccer National Championship in Orange Beach, presented by The Wharf with a 1-0 win over Keiser (Fla.).
After a day that included a game stoppage due to lightning and severe weather, the Lady Crusaders picked up right where they left off after Saturday’s game that was simply re-started on Sunday. Freshman Anni Rusanenprovided the game winner in the first half, just the second goal of both her season and her career.
Though Keiser made pushes in spurts, a strong William Carey back line, led by senior April Stewart of Pascagoula, gave the Crusaders a chance to claim their first title.
Silvia Leonessi came close to adding to the Lady Crusaders’ lead twice, both hitting the crossbar with just under six minutes to go in the first half, and sending one just wide with 21:06 left in the match.
In the end, two of the top goal-scoring teams in the nation ended-up in a defensive battle. The Lady Crusaders entered action on Sunday ranked third in the NAIA in goals scored per game with 4.05, while Keiser was ranked No. 6 with 3.75.
The title was the second for William Carey overall, and the first in women’s soccer. It’s only other national title came in 1969 with a baseball world series championship.
After the match, the all-tournament team was announced as William Carey led all teams with three players. Defender April Stewart, midfielder Ana Paula Santos and forward Shantell Thompson were each honored for their efforts.
William Carey also picked up two more major honors. Stewart was named the 2018 NAIA Outstanding Defensive Player of the Tournament, while Santos was named the 2018 NAIA Most Valuable Player of the Tournament.
Other Coast players on the William Carey roster are: freshman Kelsay Himel (ocean Springs), senior Savannah Carter (Ocean Springs), senior Alex Musial (Gulfport), sophomore Gabby Vincent (Gulfport) and junior Bailey Clemens (Pascagoula).